Creating a Resilient Mentally Tough Adult Dog

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As I look around at the kid's soccer games where no team wins, I wonder what this result will look like in adults. Then I realize I know.


The stress that comes with losing is what builds character; though that stress will also come from being benched for most of the game, or not scoring enough goals. Which is a good thing, because this stress is what gives us strength, determination, a desire to work harder, and a mental toughness. And as I raise the most perfect Border Collie ever born and continue to enjoy coasting in mediocrity, one of my mentors forces me to remember this.


Pippa used to struggle immensely with being told "No". However, this is still a necessary word in her life, to keep her perfect. She cannot be a powerful bitch if someone disagreeing with her sends her on a 48 hour sobbing fest. To teach her how to grow beyond this, she has had a series of 'lessons' strategically set up to put her under pressure, then let her win.


Last week was another. It was 'sit means sit even if you don't want to'. As she leapt out of her position with glee, she got put back where she needed to be. While this lesson was based on the 'sit', that is just the ingredient used to teach her to be a nicer person. The lesson is about building mental toughness, determination and strength. By fixing her sit she underwent the same emotions as loosing a soccer game, and learned to work through them.


She would not have learned the same lesson if she got a cookie simply for taking part.  Life doesn't work that way...


This is such a difficult concept to put into words, but I think parents with well adjusted children will know what I mean. Putting a dog in bubble wrap is a necessary step in raising a young dog, or child. But at some point the bubble wrap must come off, and we must teach them to deal with the stresses of life. If we do not do this, we keep them mentally weak.  Bad moments must happen, to build character, and to teach us how to handle stress, and to cope.


A mentally weak dog is going to suffer with anxiety, with change, and lack the ability to problem solve. Their only solution to uncomfortable questions will be teeth, or running away.  And, they won't be happy. 


So please prepare your dog for the high-school bully, for getting turned down from a job that they desperately want, for being the last picked for a team, for bouncing back when they get laid off from their job etc. Teach your dog mental resilience. Raising a wimp is the easy feel-good road. But it doesn't feel good for them when they are outside of their comfort zone and they panic, having no clue how to problem solve.


And trophies for participation are helping no one.  They don't teach you to work harder, to dig deep, to give it all that you have got.  And neither do cookies for participation. Be aware of what you are rewarding.  If you reward shit, it means you will get more of that in the future!  


Ultimately dog training is all about honouring the dog, even when we have to consequence them when we would rather not, in order to give them the mental resilience to have a happy, functional adult-hood.  You owe it to your dog to prepare them for the trials and tribulations of life.  



Monique Anstee
Victoria, BC


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